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119 of 127 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient Truth
"Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk, then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man." -John Henry Newman

Everyday we make decisions about the paths we will take in life. At times we find ourselves conflicted...
Published on April 22, 2002 by Rebecca of Amazon

versus
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful for some but not convincing.
I start with a quick remark on the Kindle edition and then onto the book. The product has been well Kindlelized (my word for which I apologize). It is easy to go back and forth to the footnotes and I was able to refer to the bibliography easily. The next frontier in this format is the index. At the present time, indexes in Kindle books are useless. Until the publisher...
Published 18 months ago by greg taylor


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119 of 127 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient Truth, April 22, 2002
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This review is from: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Paperback)
"Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk, then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man." -John Henry Newman

Everyday we make decisions about the paths we will take in life. At times we find ourselves conflicted beyond the normal level of simple decisions making. What we often desire is obviously in direct conflict with our inner knowledge of right and wrong and no matter how we try to rationalize our decisions, taking the wrong path brings us immense internal conflict and emotional pain.

We lose our sense of peace and become filled with chaotic desires. Frustrated with our decisions we try to find self-satisfying justifications for our unethical behavior. Breaking a general precept of the natural law carries the penalty of guilt. As human beings, we find this to be a constant struggle between what we want and need, what we should do and should not do.

When our conscience accuses us of these facts, we either change the path we are on or smother the knowledge written on our hearts and keep right on walking, rationalizing to ourselves that the pleasure we will gain from this path is greater than the pain of the thorns of conscience we keep stepping on repeatedly.

"The good of a human soul lies in the activity of using and following reason, and its highest good lies in the activity of using it and following it excellently."

Sometimes the only way off a path we have chosen is a decision to just do the right thing. The conflict that leads up to that decision can at times make us set up road blocks on paths we don't ever want to take again. Even J. Budziszewski lived through this process and if he could hear God's voice through the cacophony of voices in the modern world calling us in so many directions, anyone can find their way back to the inner knowledge of ancient truths.

J. Budziszewski became a Christian at the early age of ten. He the fell away from his faith after becoming caught up in radical politics. He tried to find ways to believe that God didn't exist. While earning his Ph.D. at Yale, he was convinced he had found plenty of reasons for atheism and moral relativism.

He came to believe that humans were not responsible for what they did and yet he came to feel a greater and greater horror about himself and an overpowering sense that his condition was terribly wrong. Finally his self-deception collapsed. He is now a defender of the natural-law tradition.

He believes there are universal moral principles that are knowable to everyone and if they are followed, they bring good into the world instead of evil. This belief has roots all the way back to the rabbinical tradition of the Noachian commandments forbidding sexual immorality, idolatry, blasphemy, bloodshed and theft.

In this "textbook-like" discussion, he presents an intellectual evolution of thoughts from the beginning of time to the present. It shows how the Human consciousness perceives God's moral law and how we can inherently understand divine truth. The challenge is to listen to what we know to be true. To seek truth in all its beautiful forms and develop a discipline of mind strong enough to resist the temptation not to listen to what we know to be true in order to avoid evil. While we might know what is good or evil, character is not inborn and is acquired. The author shows how our human souls are designed for two things. To understand and to love. When there is a defect in one, there is a defect in the other. He describes "love" as a "constant will to the true good of another person."

Chapter Four was especially interesting as he expounds on the beliefs of Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth-century Dominican Monk who is regarded as the greatest of all medieval philosophers. The beliefs of Aristotle, John Locke, C.S. Lewis and John Stuart Mill make this a fascinating read.

There are discussions about "Why Government is Necessary?" and why we are born with human rights. Why a government that denies natural law is so terrible and why a state of liberty is not a state of license. He also gives the seven criteria for when a country can go to war and explains that for the first time in American history, political leaders committed themselves to following the principles of a just war during the War in the Gulf. The discussion on private property is enlightening and leads into more discussion about Tyrannical rulers and revolution, which is discussed earlier in a chapter on Human Law & Regime Design.

You will find some horrifying ideas that are balanced with sanity, so beautiful you cannot help but desire within your very being to choose truth. This book will awaken within you all that you know to be true.

The deepest part of you will recognize truth when you see it. Making the right decisions
once you awaken to the truth is the real challenge. After reading one of his books you will find yourself hungering to read everything he has written.

While most modern secular thinkers reject the natural law and are constantly having discussions on such fundamental issues as morals, there does seem to be a desire to go back to the idea that there is a moral standard known by all. The Moral Sense by James Q. Wilson is a book the author also recommends. If you are new to the works of J. Budziszewski, I would recommend "The Revenge of Conscience" as the first book you read as it deals with moral neutrality, liberalism and conservatism.

Everyday we are faced with paths that will lead us to a more enlightened human existence or a path that will cast a shadow over the laws written on our heart. This book will show the way to more enlightened thought and shows why our civilization is in an advanced state of decay.

~The Rebecca Review
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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Teaching Natural Law to a Lawless Society, January 19, 2000
This review is from: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Paperback)
Since the great works of classic Greek philosophy are seldom taught either at the high school or college level, the author gives a brief but convincing grounding in Aristotle. Proceeding through other great thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, he relentlessly shows the universal applicability of moral principles. The book is a very effective foil for those post-modern thinkers who believe (without proof) that mankind has moved beyond the natural law, or that there is no such thing. The book is written at a very readable level.
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69 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Primer on Political Philosophy, August 26, 1998
This review is from: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Paperback)
Professor Budziszewski's defense of natural law is that, in spades, but is more. It gave me the sort of clear understanding of the basics of political philosophy that I should have received along with my B.A. in Political Science.
Written on the Heart is a must-read for anyone who "knows" that there must be universal truth, and absolute standards of right and wrong, but just can't articluate the reason for that conviction.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why man is without excuse - good read, but difficult, April 13, 2007
This review is from: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Paperback)
Written by The University of Texas government and philosophy professor J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart is a very deep and complex look at the issue of natural law using Romans 2:15 as the foundational concept that God has written the truth on the hearts of every man, but that this truth while apparent and undeniable to all is obfuscated to the unregenerate. Budziszewski then examines some of the great thinkers on this issue starting with Aristotle, moving to Aquinas, followed by Locke and ending will Mill. Examining each philosophy and how it relates to this concept of natural law, Budziszewski breaks down these four intellectual giants showing where he believes each supports and strays from the natural law theory.

Finally, Budziszewski ties all the loose ends together by presenting his concept and understanding of natural law grounded in the divine revelation of God's Word. In essence, God's general revelation of natural law is only made clear by God's special revelation of His Word. Budziszewski supports the notion that law originates with God who has given man enough information about His nature and the nature of man to relate to Him and each other in the most productive and effective manner. Yet, since most people suppress their knowledge of the truth by their sin nature (as well as their sins), mankind faces great difficulty producing and sustaining harmony and community.

Written on the Heart is written for the serious thinker and student - probably only for high school seniors and above, this book is a difficult read not only in the depth of the concepts addressed, but also in the vocabulary used and its length. However, for those wanting to know more about the concept of natural law, Budziszewski is one of the best modern thinkers on this subject and this book is well worth the time, energy and effort required to read.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-written natural law survey and terse critique, May 21, 2005
By 
Erik Gfesser (Lombard, IL United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Paperback)
While Budziszewski offers a well-written CliffsNotes-styled survey of natural law thinkers, it is important to note that he avoids allowing his Christian worldview or Weltanschauung to interfere with the discussion - it is only in the concluding third of the text where Budziszewski relates natural law theory of the past and present to the Christian belief system. The text covers natural law thinkers Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and John Locke, as well as one of the great modern opponents of natural law, John Stuart Mill. Following these four units, the author offers a critique of these thinkers. This critique is very well done, and is a bit terse - only 9 pages long - but the following chapter on recent natural law thinkers is roughly twice the length and offers an excellent survey-within-a-survey that includes sections on Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and secular reconsidersations of natural law (Budziszewski argues that the philosophy of natural law is experiencing a renaissance, and he illuminates some of the current directions that these varied perspectives are taking). Of particular note, the author writes that "...the secular way of thinking is just as full of theological commitments as the other three - just as full of faith, but of a different sort...". Some readers may be interested in the fact that Written on the Heart includes an appendix on elementary reasoning.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pressing after natural revelation, September 14, 2004
This review is from: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Paperback)
Although this book is written as sort of a college textbook/primer on natural law, it is a very readable summary of the main theories of natural law, as well as an evaluation of each. Budziszewski also provides a short, but well written apologetic of the Christian view of natural law at the end. That section, as well as the first section on Aristotle, I found to be the most interesting and useful.

He shows how important natural law is in politics (very broadly defined as the partnership in a good life). In an pluralistic era such as we are in, with prevailing theories of post-modernism and humanism, there often seems to be little or no recognized common basis for truth. Many do not even believe in ultimate truth, which presents a sure formula for chaos. As truth continues to be eroded, what common basis for maintaining "the good" in society remains? If ultimate truth is not recognized, then how can morality be determined?

Here is where Budziszewski's book steps into the gap to show, through logical consideration and the common intuition of mankind, that there are in fact moral standards that humanity as a whole recognizes. There is an inherent knowledge of good and evil, written on our heart, as Romans 2:15 says. He also has excellent discussions on how is is possible for humans to obscure or distort this law written on their heart so that they ignore it or twist it to the detriment of themselves and their fellow members of society. Coming to a common recognition of natural law principles is an important part of governing a pluralistic society where not everyone accepts the authority and inspiration of the Christian Bible and the Law contained therein.

But God in His providence has written the essential content of the Law on the hearts of all mankind. Budziszewski does a fine job of showing this to be true, and his argument would even be persuasive to non-Christians. He also clearly delineates between natural revelation and "special revelation", and how natural revelation does not lead one to a saving knowledge of God in Christ Jesus (whereas "special revelation"--i.e. the Bible/Word of God--does). Budziszewski also does a fine job of answering critics of natural law theory, both from Christian and non-Christian contenders.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Strong Overview of Some of the Most Influential Western Philosophers, December 10, 2009
This review is from: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Paperback)
This book is a strong introduction to various philosophers that have marked Western civilization, starting with Aristotle and proceeding to Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill. Budziszewski begins by outlining the basic premises of each of these thinkers' philosophical systems and then proceeds to critique each of their views of the natural law, while then providing an overview of some recent natural law thinkers.

Unit I: Aristotle
According to Aristotle, the purpose of politics and the city is to enable man to enter into a partnership for the realization of the good life. Community in family and friendships is important to man's social nature, yet these are not enough. The city is required as a broader partnership to place these other partnerships under law and obtain justice. Politics and the city provide the framework from which man can attain the good.
What is Aristotle's conception of the "good"? To properly understand this, one must analyze his Ethics. Aristotle concludes that the good of the soul "lies in the activity of using and following reason, and its highest good lies in the activity of using it and following it excellently" (p. 23). In this way, man achieves true happiness, the greatest human good. It is by acting according to man's purpose that he obtains true happiness, and man's purpose is according to Aristotle the contemplation and understanding of reality.
Community in family and friendships is important to man's social nature, yet these relationships are not enough; the city is required as a broader partnership to place them under law and obtain justice. Aristotle discusses three kinds of justice: (i) obedience to the law (complete justice); (ii) fairness in the allotment of goods (partial justice); and (iii) the civic arrangement of a free people who aer equal under law (political justice). The first kind is complete justice it touches on all of the different virtues. However, although it touches on all of the virtues, it does not touch on every act. Rather, it touches only upon those acts that relate to fellow men. This is because the law is concerned not with all good, but only with the common good.

Unit II: Thomas Aquinas
Aquinas's Summa Theologica was meant to be a summary treatise "about God, about man and about their relationship" (p. 53). The Treatise on Law is one part of the Summa (Part I-II) that deals with the natural law, the human law, the divine law, the revision of laws, the effects of the law, and the "law of sin," which is not a law in the strict sense, but rather "a penalty or consequence resulting from Divine law for man's turning his back on God" (p. 63).
Aquinas distinguishes between the eternal law (God's will), the divine law (God's will as promulgated in the Scriptures); the natural law (the divine law that man knows by virtue of his rational nature), and the human law (the law that is created by the governor who has care over the community). Aquinas warns of those human laws that seek to forbid all evil deeds. Such laws are dangerous because they risk doing away "with many good things" in addition to evil things (p. 77). Although the law should not prohibit all vices, the public should not cease to think of them as vices.
On the question of civil disobedience, Aquinas writes that Christians do not have to obey unjust laws, except when "disobedience would cause either scandal or disturbance" (p. 81). Civil disobedience is the proper course of action when an unjust law is imposed on the subject, but even unjust laws should be obeyed when their disobedience would cause a disturbance to one's fellow citizens or would lead to a misunderstanding that draws others into sin. Under these circumstances, it is preferable to obey rather than disobey the unjust law. However, when an unjust temporal law contradicts God's divine law, it should always be disobeyed.
Laws may be changed or improved upon, but it must be noted that frequent or frivolous changes will exasperate the general population and cause citizens to lose respect for the law. Aquinas writes that "the mere change of law is of itself prejudicial to the common good; because custom avails much for the observance of laws" (p. 84). Changes to the human law may thus be permitted, "but only if the impsrovement in the law outweighs the harm done by change itself" (p. 84).

Unit III: John Locke
Budziszewski argues that a crisis in natural law thinking was sparked by the Protestant Reformation. Many theologians, basing their views on the fall of man as recounted in the Genesis narrative, came to reject the idea that man could through reason know the natural law. Because "[s]in has twisted the faculty of reason at least as much as it has the passions" (p. 110), we could no longer be sure of the validity of our perceptions of the natural law. Those who held to this line of reasoning, which Budziszewski calls the "rejectionists," argued that natural law reasoning should be rejected and faith should instead be cast in the Scriptures.
Budziszewski concedes that not all of the reformers accepted this reasoning. Philip Melanchton for instance, "saw no problem with natural law" (p. 109). John Locke similarly took a moderate view of the natural law and, although he believed in the biblical account of the fall (he authored A Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity), he did not believe that human reason was so tainted that it was completely unreliable.
Yet Locke's view of natural law departs from that of Aristotle and Aquinas. Whereas the latter viewed the political condition as man's natural condition, Locke viewed our pre-political state as having everything necessary for people to "live truly human lives" (p. 112). Political society to Locke merely introduces certain guarantees and conveniences otherwise lacking in man's pre-political state. For example, he is able to better protect his natural rights, the enforcement of which is transferred from each individual to the government of the political society. Yet if the government goes beyond the enforcement power that each individual had transferred to it, "the power that the people gave to the government reverts back to them" (p. 130).

Unit IV: John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill's system of absolute values does not revolve around truth, beauty, or goodness, but rather, around feelings or sensations. For him, the greatest good is pleasure. Therefore, good is not to be discovered as inherently abiding in any object; rather, the good of a thing is directly related to its utility in creating pleasure. There are thus no normative principles in human nature that we are to explore as we seek to discover what creates human happiness. Rather, in determining the good, we are to determine the sums of pleasure and pain for the aggregate of society and thereby discover which of the array of options before any one decision-maker is the one that promotes the greatest amount of pleasure.
Budziszewski raises several objections to Mill's utilitarian value system. For example, it is practically impossible to calculate all possible courses of action available to a decision maker at any one time and to determine the pain or pleasure likely to result from each course of action for every person who will be affected, summing up the net gains or losses for pleasure and pain in order to determine the "utility" of each decision. There is far too much uncertainty in such calculations and it is unreasonable to expect. This process is so complicated that another utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham, "devoted a number of paragraphs jus to the investigation of whether and how to belch and pass gas!" (p. 146). Mill tries to argue around this weakness in his system by suggesting that it would not be necessary to undertake these calculations at every decision, but rather, it would be possible to undertake one calculation that can be applied with some exceptions to several groups of similar situations. Budziszewski replies that the very act of determining whether a situation falls under an "exception" involves the same burdensome and impractical calculation that Mill tried escaping. Other objections that Budziszewski raised include the incommensurability of different pleasures, the distinctness of persons, and the moral irrelevance of aggregate pleasures.
Budziszewski further argues that Mill's system, which values utility, usefulness, expediency, and aggregate pleasure, completely excludes justice. "If the just is the right and the expedient is the useful, then justice and expediency are two different things [that] may even come into conflict with each other" (p. 162). When such a situation arises, Mill holds that the commonly accepted rules of justice should be broken.

Unit V: Written on the Heart
After having stated the positions of various philosophers on the natural law in the preceding chapters, Budziszewski proceeds to analyze and critique their positions.
Budziszewski proceeds to analyze the thinkers that he had theretofore analyzed, and states:
- Aristotle views natural right but fails to see natural law. Yet he may represent the closest to truth that a pagan who has had no exposure to God's revealed truth can arrive.
- Aquinas places too must trust in the mind and man's reason, which he does not adequately view as tainted by the fall, as well as too much reliance on pagan sources, which "seems to lead him into misinterpretation of Scripture itself" (p. 190).
- Locke writes of principles "written on the heart," but means something different from the Scriptures mean. He does not, for example, believe in underived knowledge. While Locke correctly states that newborn infants have no innate knowledge, he does not recognize that they are born with some underived knowledge, for a baby's mind is structured by underived first principles (p. 193).
Yet natural law thinking did not end with early modern writers such as Locke. Rather, there is today a renaissance of natural law thinking in the following traditions:
- Roman Catholic. A new natural-law theory in the Catholic tradition holds that "we have `pre-moral practical principles' that identify the various kinds of human good as self-evident objects of pursuit. Second, we have `modes of responsibility,' equally self-evident, that tell us how to pursue them. Third are ordinary moral rules, which result" (p. 197).
- Jewish. Whether natural law thinking is compatible with the Jewish faith is a controversial question. Yet those who accept the natural law hold that it is presumed already in the Torah, but under a different name.
- Protestant. The early reformers, including Luther and Calvin, never doubted the place of the natural law. The Catholic Church's natural law tradition was not one of the areas of reform that they instituted. More recently, though, the natural law has been rejected in Protestant circles based on a series of objections that Budziszewski enumerates. The rejectionists contend, for example, that natural law theorists contradict one another as to the content of the natural law. Budziszewski deals with these objections, concluding that they are mostly due to misunderstandings.
- Secular. Some modern secular thinkers, such as James Wilson, accept the idea of universal standards of right and wrong in accord with natural law thinking. As Budziszewski points out, however, the secular argument for the natural law can have no basis on absolute values. Budzisewski asks: "How do we know which sentiments are `moral,' which motives are `nobler' or which aspect of nature is `better' if the only tool we have for judging is sentiment or motive or nature itself?" (p. 218).
Conclusion
This book begins as an overview of the philosophies of various thinkers throughout history. With respect to Locke, for example, rather than provide an overview of Locke's law of nature, its meaning, and its implications, Budziszewski provides a general overview of Locke's state of nature, contract basis for society, and man's right to property and to change government when it has violated this contract. In Unit V of the book, Budziszewski at last ties together the previous four units and offers a critique of the philosophies of prior generations as they relate to the natural law, while giving an overview of modern philosophies and shows where some of them fall short.
One may draw the conclusion that the case for the natural law is undermined rather than furthered by this work because the reader, rather than come across a uniform tradition of natural law throughout history, finds quite distinct theories on the natural law as mediated by the classicists, Aquinas, Locke, and Mill.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A decent primer, June 10, 2013
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This review is from: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Paperback)
Budziszewski does a superb job in presenting the Natural Law Theory. The book is remarkably clear and gives a number of pointed legal applications. It is easy reading, and sometimes quite fun.

I have a few qualifications and comments on the book.

*I still remain unconvinced to a degree. On one level I agree with Budziszewski--as a medievalist in the tradition of Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, and Aquinas, I believe there exists an objective moral realm and that natural man is accountable before God for his actions. I have to ask, though, what is the *content* of natural law?

*Budziszewski scores major points in pointing out the differences in natural law theory. Many Reformed scholars think they can posit some vague natural law theory and everything is just peachy, not realizing the major differences in natural law over the centuries.

*Budziszewski gives a higher view of Locke than I do. While Budziszewski has some insightful comments on private property and the rights (or not) of armed rebellion, I simply must disagree with him that John Locke's liberalism promotes an ultimately free society. Locke wanted religious freedom for all groups provided--and this is the key point--they underwrote the State. Simply, as long as they are not annoying they can have religious freedom.

Overall:
There are some other philosophical ambiguities that haunt natural law discussion. He also didn't mention the current warfare in Thomist studies concerning the neo-platonism and participatory ontologies. In other words, for Thomas natural law participates in the divine law. For Hugo Grotius, natural law could be true even if God were false. The latter secularized the former.

Also, if God's nature isn't contradictory, then would not natural law and biblical law agree? If that is the case, and biblical revelation is more specific and clear than natural law, and God's laws were just, then why not use biblical law?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Summary of Natural Law Philosophers, November 12, 2012
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This review is from: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Paperback)
The majority of Written on the Heart was originally published as a textbook, as the author points out in the preface. Despite this, the book is succinct and easy to read. However, there are points where those who are not well-read in philosophy may struggle through some of the more complex discussions. I say discussions because that is more or less the style Budziszewski uses throughout. Again, this enhances the readability, making the experience more informal and less solitary.

Units one through four take the reader through a nicely summarized progression of natural law philosophy from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, then John Locke and John Stuart Mill. This chronological presentation helps one understand the development of natural law theory in the context of world history. With Aristotle being the first philosopher discussed, natural law is appropriately introduced from the perspective of one who was a pagan; therefore, his viewpoint and understanding is based on pure observation of mankind. Thomas Aquinas follows and improves upon Aristotle, with his chief advantage being the special revelation of the Bible. This allows him to not only observe, but to incorporate the authoritative source on the matter. While Budziszewski affirms that Aquinas's theory is more correct, it is not without flaws. The third philosopher, who should be familiar to all Americans, is John Locke. As many well know, Locke had a profound influence on the "Founding Fathers" and geared his theory on natural law much more towards politics. His views on revolution were of particular importance. It was not until the fourth philosopher, John Stuart Mill, where a disturbing path begins that shows clear signs of humanism. His utilitarian and mathematic approach to ethics would justify almost anything. Particularly disturbing is the discussion on Kinsey.

Unit five and the intermezzo tie everything together and are where Budziszewski gives his position on natural law. Again, his style of writing engages the reader as if sitting in a classroom. He highlights strengths and weaknesses from each of the four philosophers, then follows up with some more recent theories and their challenges.

While the case for natural law is not presented in one continuous build-up to an overwhelming conclusion, there are gems of its truth dispersed throughout the book. This is not a drawback, but rather a result of the author's chronological organization. Strong points of the book were the critical analyses of each philosopher and how they related to each other, as well as the thought-provoking issues inherent to each theory on natural law. One key takeaway was how natural law and ethics has been so twisted over time that any discussion of it today requires a person to remove their over-intellectualized notions and get back to the foundation. This is, after all, how Aristotle had to approach the topic. As Budziszewski points out, our pompous scholarship has only made the topic more obscure, not more clear.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful for some but not convincing., August 20, 2013
By 
greg taylor (Portland, Oregon United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Paperback)
I start with a quick remark on the Kindle edition and then onto the book. The product has been well Kindlelized (my word for which I apologize). It is easy to go back and forth to the footnotes and I was able to refer to the bibliography easily. The next frontier in this format is the index. At the present time, indexes in Kindle books are useless. Until the publisher goes to the cost of either putting the pagination in the edition or putting the Kindle location in the index or making an active index they might as well get rid of them.
Overall- don't shy away from the Kindle version. It is a worthy format for this book.

As for the book itself, it is worth reading but... The basic problem is that the more you already share the author's particular faith, the more convincing you will find the book. If you don't share that faith, the argumentation ultimately fails even though the history is worth reading.

First let me explain a little about myself. I am hoping this review leads to some good discussion and that background may help some. I am an atheist, a social democrat (by which I mean left of the Democratic Party but right of socialism), have a philosophy degree from Concordia University in Montreal and have a lifetime curiosity in political and moral philosophy. I stated to become interested in the idea of natural law when I had kids. My girls were born seemingly with the idea of fairness hard-wired into their brains. So has every other kid I ever met. My reading in Western and Eastern philosophy has led me to note that some variation of the Golden Rule is close to universal. I took away from my reading of Leo Strauss' Natural Right and History the idea that there is a layer of consciousness that structures our experience in terms of moral categories.

I have been rereading Locke of late and came to Budziszewski (hereafter simply B.) with the hope that he would give me a succinct critical tour through Aristotle, Aquinus, Locke, Mill and some modern thinkers and then offer some cogent arguments for natural law of his own. My hopes were furthered spurred by the inclusion of a brief appendix to B.'s book on Elementary Reasoning. Surely someone who offered an introduction to informal logic and to argumentation would argue well.
Not so much. What I got was one long well-written and heartfelt petitio principii. He assumes what needs to be proven. There is no real attempt to prove that natural law exists. He merely states that it is obvious for two reasons; general and special revelation.

General revelation is essentially the argument from design. We live in a law-driven universe ergo there is a law maker. All people have some moral sense or conscience. All people agree that certain things are not to be done. Ergo there is a Moral Law. This is similar to the point I was making about Strauss.
Special revelation is God's gift to us through the Torah, the Old Testament and the New Testament. These writings are divine in origin (although they have been misunderstood and misapplied by human interpreters) and properly understood, they reveal the path to salvation that a loving God has laid out for us.
As such, human history is largely the result of several major events- Creation, The Fall, The Ten Commandments, The Birth, Death and Resurrection of Christ and the possibility of Salvation through Faith and God's Grace.
The Fall looms large in this history. Human perversity, pride, error and sheer mule-headedness can be traced back to the Fall.
All of which is one big petitio principii. I don't accept the arguments from either general or special revelation. Well, duh, I have been warped by The Fall. QED.
I have three major arguments with B.'s book. The first is that (as above) any argument against B.'s point can be dismissed by The Fall. No moral precept is universal? Hello, human perversity. The Fall.

The result is a theory that cannot really be discussed except about the details between true believers. I can raise no counterargument that B. cannot attribute to the impact of the Fall. We are left with no way to discuss our differences. I either accept his premise of the truth of Christian revelation or I continue down my path of error. According to B., I either make that leap of faith or I sin.

The second issue is his cherry picking of Locke. He mentions that Locke doesn't seen natural law the way B. does. What B. fails to emphasize is just how great those differences are. Locke devotes much of Essays on the Law of Nature and the first book of his Essay on Human Understanding to destroying the idea that natural law is written on our hearts or can be accepted through revelation.
B. likes Locke because Locke makes the right to property a natural law (with a pretty weak argument) and because he likes Locke's individualism (for the record- so do I). I conclude this because there were plenty of other contemporaries of Locke (Pufendorf, Cudworth, Hutcheson, Shaftesbury) who would have been more congenial to B.'s overall project.

The third issue is his use of Mill. Mill and utilitarianism is the favorite whipping boy of conservatives who are dismayed by the state of our culture. For another example, see Teddy Dalrymple's book on the necessity of prejudice. This is a good example of a kind of straw man argument. I would claim that in moral philosophy the trend has been away from utilitarianism for several decades; at least, since the early writing of Bernard Williams and John Rawls. Kant has been far more influential than Mills in recent years. B. dismissed Kant with a ridiculous assertion and proceeds to attack Mills in ways that were far better done by Williams thirty or forty years ago. If you want to disprove the insights of your contemporaries, you should argue against their best not their worst. Otherwise you descend from philosophy into polemics.

If you are Christian, particularly a conservative Christian, you will find this a useful book for straightening out the issues and for further reading. If you are not Christian and you want a decent introduction to Aristotle and Aquinas on the issue of natural law you will get much from this book. For me I wrestled with B.'s thought for several weeks and came away with a renewed love of Aristotle, a renewed interest in Aquinas and totally unconvinced. Color me fallen, I guess.
Lay on Amazonia! Let us discuss the issues. Please don't tell me I haven't read the book. I have. Please don't call me names. If you think this is a poorly argued review, tell me why. Educate me.

Addendum 09/07/2013- For a far better introduction to Locke on his views on natural law and how it impacted his social/political philosophy and of Locke's philosophy in general see the collection by John Yolton entitled John Locke: Problems and Perspectives. The article by Aarsleff is a far better and certainly more sympathetic (and objective) presentation of Locke on the issue than that offered by Budziszewski.
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Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law
Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law by J. Budziszewski (Paperback - May 14, 1997)
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